Pitt School of Education faculty member Tom Akiva has received the 2021 University of Pittsburgh Provost’s Award for Diversity in the Curriculum. The award honors Akiva’s work to transform the Pitt School of Education Doctor of Education (EdD) program to center its coursework and experiences around anti-racism and equity.
In 2019, Akiva worked with colleagues to redesign the EdD program’s on-ramp summer course that introduces new students to the foundations of the three-year, practitioner-focused program.
Akiva led a workshop about systemic racism, which his students described as a moving experience in their course evaluations. Students were so engaged in meaningful conversations during the first workshop that the session ended up going over time.
He says that the EdD faculty continue to refine the on-ramp experience with input from current students and a team approach.
“I rely on my collaborations with other faculty, particularly those that I co-facilitate the on-ramp with, including Jill Perry and Esohe Osai. Collaboration among faculty makes the EdD program vibrant,” says Akiva.
“I feel like the award is not just for me but for the whole network of people who make the EdD work,” says Akiva
The Provost’s Diversity in the Curriculum Award recognizes faculty from across Pitt who integrate diversity and inclusion concepts into courses and curricula at the University of Pittsburgh. Up to five awardees are chosen annually. Each award includes a $2,000 cash prize.
In letters of support for the Provost’s curriculum award, students applauded Akiva’s commitment to equity and justice.
Katie Todd, an EdD student specializing in Out-of-School Learning, said it was her conversations with Akiva about equity and justice when she was a prospective student that inspired her to attend Pitt Education. Once she enrolled at Pitt, those meaningful discussions continued.
“Dr. Akiva masterfully crafted the on-ramp in a way that our learning extended past the official content,” wrote Todd in her nomination letter. “Beyond the readings, activities, and lectures, he ensured that we built meaningful relationships with faculty and other students, who made up the most diverse student body the program had ever accepted.”
The Pitt School of Education’s EdD program offers eight different specializations, and students come from various personal and professional backgrounds. Akiva says all EdD students must gain a strong foundation in anti-racism regardless of their focus.
The Pitt School of Education 2019 EdD cohort.
Akiva also received support in his nomination for the Provost’s Award from the Pitt School of Education’s Renée and Richard Goldman Dean, Valerie Kinloch.
“Akiva’s efforts have had and continue to have a significant impact on the field of education,” wrote Kinloch. “Our EdD students work in educational leadership positions in a wide range of locations and areas…[and] have the power to shape the trajectories of their organizations based on the knowledge, skills, and critical dispositions gained during their studies in our program. Dr. Akiva has been instrumental in this work.”
Akiva notes that the EdD program’s curricular focus is an extension of the school’s mission-vision for equity and justice.
“Dean Kinloch has put into place powerful structures for us to be able to evolve our programs and reimagine the best offerings for our students,” says Akiva. “I feel tremendous support to experiment and be creative to strengthen what we offer for students. There’s no attitude of ‘we’ve always done this way,’” he says.
Akiva says the school’s EdD students are passionate about social change. In the summer of 2020, a group of EdD students organized a socially-distanced vigil after the murder of George Floyd.
The socially-distanced vigil, organized by Pitt Education EdD students in July 2020, to remember the Black Lives lost to police violence.
Akiva emphasized the ongoing nature of the school’s efforts to center anti-racism and equity.
“We didn’t just make one change and think, we’re done. It’s a continuous improvement project, and we look forward to continuing on this voyage.”
The University of Pittsburgh School of Education EdD program is currently accepting applications. Apply here.